MP-1982.69.3 | Testing machines, Berliner Gramophone Company, Montreal, QC, 1910

Testing machines, Berliner Gramophone Company, Montreal, QC, 1910
1910, 20th century
Silver salts on paper - Gelatin silver process
12.7 x 17.8 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Industry (942) , Photograph (77678)
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Keys to History

The age of mass production heralded the dawn of mass culture. Movie theatres - 907 of them by 1930 - and recorded music allowed Canadians to amuse themselves whenever they wished. Thomas Edison's 1877 invention of the gramophone initiated a technological battle for the best recording system. German-born Emile Berliner (1851-1929) developed a system of covering zinc disks with wax ("japanning") and then engraving sound waves into it before etching the pattern into the disk with acid. The resulting recording could then be repeatedly transposed on to a hard rubber disc that could be played on a rotating platform driven by an electrical motor. Berliner gramophones were cheap, loud and popular.

In 1899, Berliner set up a factory in Montreal. He would eventually open a recording studio to enable Canadians to record their own music.

  • What

    Berliner's flat disc system was cheaper and easier to store than Edison's cylinder recording system. Vicious legal and advertising battles broke out over the proprietorship of early recording systems.

  • Where

    The Berliner Gramophone Company of Canada was incorporated in 1904, because Canadian patent laws only protected an inventor if he brought his product into production inside Canada.

  • When

    The oldest surviving recording made in Canada dates from 1888, when Governor-General Lord Stanley used an Edison recording machine to send a message to the president of the United States.

  • Who

    Emile Berliner and his son Herbert introduced a "His Master's Voice" series of Canadian recordings in both English and French. In 1924 intense competition saw the Berliner company taken over by the American Victor Company.